The Pitch

Jeff's Twitter Icon

It's all Melanie's fault. In March I received an email from her extolling the virtues of twitter, that micro-blogging, naval-gazing, Web 2.0 service. I knew about twitter but was totally uninterested in subscribing to a service that would allow me (force me!) to post short little "tweets" about what I was doing at the moment. More importantly, why on earth would I want to follow others doing the same? But she persevered.

In her email she said: "You're receiving this because you're among those open minded smart people I know who gets that things have changed and we need to understand the future. Right?" Right. And she went on to demonstrate how she was using it in the classroom. Ok, I was intrigued. A former prof, I have always been curious about how to get people interested in new ideas. And, now that I'm a veteran museum professional (ten years last month!) I'm constantly exploring and evangelizing new ways to connect the net to the museum.

The Hook

So, I opened a twitter account. The artist in me soon found the limitations of the medium interesting: how could I be creative in 140 characters? And, given the flotsam and jetsam of the majority of twitter posts, how could I say something interesting? My posts weren't numerous and those following my every word were minuscule. Not a problem. I could see the creativity in the endeavor so I continued.

The Tooth

Last week, as I sat in my endodontist's office waiting to be evaluated for a possible root canal I tweeted: "Waiting to see root canal doc. Of course, my tooth doesn't hurt today." Suddenly, I got an email notifying me an endodontist from somewhere in Canada was following me. I asked for a consult in a short 140 character burst. My real doctor laid it out: 90% chance I'd need the procedure within six months. So I scheduled my appointment and suddenly I connected the dots. I saw the potential for something more interesting than drilling into my enamel: I would broadcast my root canal via twitter.

My twitter-based endodontist thought that was a great idea and tweeted my plans to his twitter followers. Suddenly, as I sat waiting for the drilling to begin geeky dentists and endodontists from around the continent were following me. It was a smart mob of dental professionals.

With iPhone in hand I called up both my twitter page and my twitter reply page so I could post a play-by-play and see the tweets of those following me. They were asking me questions as the procedure began. My endodontist didn't really understand my groundbreaking attempts to use social media to communicate during this medical procedure. But she was a great sport about it. She explained what she was doing and every now and then would stop so I could inform my audience (PDF of my tweets: read from the bottom up).

The Pitch Redux

And, like any conceptual artist worth his weight in ideas I realized the most important thing was to document what I'd done. Just that very morning Rob Pegoraro, the tech writer for the Washington Post had written an article on Twitter. I wrote him and Marc Fisher, another Post writer who had covered my eBay auction back in 1999 (where I auctioned my personal demographics). Marc wrote a piece about my twittered root canal. I've posted the transcript of my tweets as well as the replies (PDF) from those who followed along during the procedure.

I must admit, I was afraid to tell my more normal friends and coworkers what I'd done. Groundbreaking as it might have been, this was pretty crazy, even for me (and some of my fellow conceptual artists thought I was nuts). But a little idea art always makes me feel alive (and after a root canal, that's a nice place to be). This was a demonstration of how social media could forge some interesting relationships. The best art is about just that. I never thought I'd "connect" with dentists from around North America. But my tooth is much better for it.